Until I was six, I spent all my life on a farm in Lowcliff in rural mid Canterbury, and from then in Springbank in rural north Canterbury. The school I went to mostly had around a dozen kids in total, though we did reach the heady heights of 19 children at one point.
My nearest neighbour was about six kilometres away and so play-overs at a mate’s place almost never happened. All the farmers seemed to work all hours, so the only community events were if we had a school picnic at the start of the year, or our end of year school concert. With just 12 kids involved, they weren’t the biggest of occasions though.
There were really only two ways you could connect with community, and both were frowned on by my parents. The first was listening in on the ‘party phone line’. In this instance party meant something very different. We all shared one ‘party’ phone line. If you wanted to ring a neighbour you dialled the Morse code for their letter. Our phone number was 50W - so to dial us you wound the ringer to make “short-long-long.” If you heard the Morse code for T, the call was not for you, but if you were very quiet and careful you could lift your earpiece and maybe listen in on their conversation.
Not good, but we didn’t have TV or even radio. We did have that other option I mentioned - an early example of reality TV, just without the TV.
Living in the country it was quiet. In the evenings and at night sound travelled for miles. Often you could go outside in the evening and listen to the neighbour - many kilometres away - completely and utterly losing the plot at his sheep dogs. The language was dreadful, hence my parents frowning upon me going out to listen.
Many years later I was a country school principal north of Napier. The Tareha community was very different from my Springbank one. When I started, there were just four children on the roll and they were looking to close the school down - nice of them not to let me know until I got there.
Anyway we got the roll up to 26 children in no time and our country school quickly became the heart of the community. There was a real variety of people in the community and we would have several school based events a term where people of all ages and backgrounds came along and had great fun.
Achieving that same sense of community in a school of 650 children is much harder. We come from so many different backgrounds, have such diverse tastes in food and sports and leisure and in many cases, work very long hours to be able to afford to live here.
And yet, in spite of those challenges, there is much that connects us as a community.
We are westies, and most of us our proud of it. We love our beaches, our Waitakere Ranges, our local sports clubs and markets, and so much more that makes the west special.
We are also Westies - Western Heights parents and whanau. The challenge is to build a Westie Heights community where we feel connected, feel we are part of something pretty special - our awesome Western Heights school - feel we belong and can contribute and participate, but without it being a burden.
It is easy for our ideas and initiatives to be ‘just one more thing’ that gets added to the huge and demanding list that is our life.
Greetings to all the families and friends of Western Heights school.